I recently attended my first Plain Language conference – the Clarity International conference in Wellington NZ. Of course the speakers at the Clarity 2016 conference were the key drawcard and highlight.

In this the third edition, I run through presentations from:

Speakers of Clarity Part Three (Credit: Verity White)
Speakers of Clarity Part Three (Credit: Verity White)

If you are after an impression of the conference as a whole, check out this post: My First Plain Language Conference.


Below I quickly run through a selection of the presentations and speed learning sessions I attended and give you:

Sarah McCoubrey, Calibrate Solutions

Can plain language change our approach to conflict?

Sarah is an excellent story teller. Sarah was able to paint a picture of a collaborative approach to law using her own father’s experience with lawyers and legal problems.

Sarah touched on the perceived stigma of visiting a lawyer, an aspect of the law I had never considered. For some reason, it’s okay to see a doctor for help but not a lawyer?  Sarah feels this could be connected to the way TV shows explain legal issues as people making poor decisions or mistakes.

People talk about conflict with shame and embarrassment, as if it is bad or foolish to have conflict. Sarah proposed that conflict is normal. We should stop judging and feeling judged about having or being in conflict.

Sarah McCoubrey, an excellent storyteller (Photo: Verity White)
Sarah McCoubrey, an excellent storyteller (Photo: Verity White)

I was really taken with Sarah’s comparison of the legal sector to the healthcare and financial sectors which are strongly moving towards patient centred care. Apps for banking are simple. Health information must be presented clearly and simply.

Preventative lawyering is about becoming client-centred. A preventative lawyer becomes a long term trusted professional not a reactive conflict based professional. Preventative lawyers ask questions… they make sure your will is up to date.

Points to live by

Link it up

Cushla Schofield, Senior legal counsel ANZ

Taming the sharks

Cushla was a Finalist in the 2015 Plain English Awards for Plain English Champion – Best Individual or Team, and her passion for Plain English really came through her presentation.

Cushla spoke about work she has done in an area I feel very strongly about – product information for consumers. In the past consumer laws have been focused on disclosing information to customers. The thinking has been that the more information someone has, the better decisions they will make.

Cushla Schofield explaining how too much information for consumers is just as bad as not enough (Photo: Verity White)
Cushla Schofield explaining how more information for consumers is not necessarily good information (Photo: Verity White)

This has left consumer organisations with large regulatory burden to produce information which consumers rarely look at or read.

As Cushla rightly points out, it just doesn’t work to just give customers more information.
ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investment Commission) has realised this. ASIC stated that companies providing consumers with information ‘should explain the practical implications of what is being offered, rather than presenting a mass of legal and financial details’.

Cushla’s slides were modern and well thought out. I especially enjoyed her encouragement to lawyers to Be Brave when walking the path to simplify information for consumers (because it’s not easy and ‘the sharks’ will push back).

Lawyers be brave!
Lawyers be brave!

Points to live by….

Link it up…

Patrick Wilson, Accident Compensation Corporation NZ

Clarifying board papers

Patrick Wilson provided important reminders for what Boards want to see in reports and submissions for board decision making.

Patrick had some interesting approaches to tackling what sounds like a demanding amount of reading for the ACC NZ Board.

Patrick Wilson from the Accident Compensation Commission NZ (Photo: Verity White)
Patrick Wilson from the Accident Compensation Corporation NZ (Photo: Verity White)

Patrick implemented a monthly Board Writer’s Group. Each month, those writing something for the Board would bring it along, everyone has 5 minutes to read the paper, then everyone has five minutes to discuss the paper. During this time, the paper writer cannot speak. Patrick outlined that this has had real benefits to improve the knowledge within the Commission on how to structure information for the Board and ensure writing stays on point.

Points to live by…

Link it up

Robert Hulls, former Victorian Attorney-General

Listenability and the law

Rob Hulls is a former Victorian attorney-general and deputy Labor premier.

Rob is extremely passionate about justice issues. Before you start wondering whether a privileged white male can speak about diversity and equality issues with any authority, when he was AG, Rob prompted major changes to Victoria’s legal system including establishing the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, setting up specialist courts for vulnerable groups and continues to champion fairer legal systems.

Rob Hulls presenting on Listenability and the Law (Photo: Verity White)
Rob Hulls presenting on Listenability and the Law (Photo: Verity White)

Rob provided insights on the importance of considering how you present legal information to people. Merely being clear and direct is not always enough. Rob’s message was along similar lines to Cushla’s presentation around framing information for consumers.

At times, you need to grab your listener’s attention quite deliberately to ensure legal information is not just clear but also understood.

Even something simple like saying ‘This is important’ before giving a serious of instructions will assist those who interact with the courts to more fully understand what is a confusing, overwhelming and daunting process.

Here is a list of instructions, if you do not do all the things on this checklist, you will have a default judgment issued against you. This means XYZ

Overall the presentation was a great reminder that spoken information is not just about what is said but about the way it’s said.

Points to live by…

Link it up…

Link city

» Photos from the conference by Alan Raga Photography

» Conference website, including videos of all main speaker presentations

» PLAIN Conference Austria 2017

💡 What do you think?

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